Immigration Reform

Immigration Reform

Charting a Course to Rebuild and Strengthen the US Refugee Admissions Program

This report analyzes the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), leveraging data from a national survey of resettlement stakeholders conducted in 2020. The survey examined USRAP from the time that refugees arrive in the United States. Its design and questionnaire were informed by three community gatherings organized by Refugee Council USA in the fall and winter of 2019, extensive input from an expert advisory group, and a literature review.

This study finds that USRAP serves important purposes, enjoys extensive community support, and offers a variety of effective services. Overall, the survey finds a high degree of consensus on the US resettlement program’s strengths and objectives, and close alignment between its services and the needs of refugees at different stages of their settlement and integration. Because its infrastructure and community-based resettlement networks have been decimated in recent years, the main challenges of subsequent administrations, Congresses, and USRAP stakeholders will be to rebuild, revitalize, and regain broad and bipartisan support for the program. This article also recommends specific ways that USRAP’s programs and services can be strengthened.

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Migrant Detention and COVID-19: Pandemic Responses in Four New Jersey Detention Centers

On March 24, 2020, a 31-year-old Mexican national in Bergen County Jail, New Jersey, became the first federal immigration detainee to test positive for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). By April 10, 2020, New Jersey had more confirmed COVID-19 cases among immigration detainees than any other state in the nation. This article examines the relationship between COVID-19 and processes of migrant detention and deportation through a case study of New Jersey — an early epicenter of the pandemic and part of the broader New York City metro area. Drawing on publicly available reports and in-depth interviews with wardens, immigration lawyers, advocates, and former detainees, we describe the initial COVID-19 response in four detention facilities in New Jersey. Our findings suggest that migrant detention and deportation present distinct challenges that undermine attempts to contain the spread of COVID-19. We provide testimonies from migrant detainees who speak to these challenges in unsettling personal terms. Our interviews highlight the insufficient actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to contain the spread of the pandemic and a troubling lack of due process in immigration court proceedings. Based on these findings, we argue that reducing the number of migrants detained in the United States is needed not only in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic but also as a preventative measure for future health crises. Reductions can be achieved, in part, by reforming federal immigration laws on “mandatory detention.”

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Real Needs, Not Fictitious Crises Account for the Situation at US-Mexico Border

The number of unaccompanied children and asylum-seekers crossing the US-Mexico border in search of protection has increased in recent weeks. The former president, his acolytes, and both extremist and mainstream media have characterized this situation as a “border crisis,” a self-inflicted wound by the Biden administration, and even a failure of US asylum policy. It is none of these things. Rather, it is a response to compounding pressures, most prominently the previous administration’s evisceration of US asylum and anti-trafficking policies and procedures, and the failure to address the conditions that are displacing residents of the Northern Triangle states of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), as well as Venezuela, Cuba, Haiti and other countries. In Central America, these conditions include:

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The US Citizenship Act of 2021: What’s Inside and Who Could be Eligible for Immigration Relief

On January 20, 2021, President Biden announced the US Citizenship Act of 2021 memorializing his commitment to modernize the US immigration system. On February 18, 2021, Senator Bob Mendez and Congresswoman Linda Sanchez introduced the bill to the Senate and House (respectively). If passed, it would create the largest legalization program in US history. This page provides an overview of the act’s provisions.

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Protected: President Biden’s Executive Actions on Immigration

On his first day in office, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. issued a number of orders, proclamations, and directives that reversed harmful policies enacted by the Trump administration and sought to put the US immigration system on a far different course. These executive actions:

  • Ended the discriminatory travel bans;
  • Sought to revise US immigration enforcement priorities
  • Protected Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients;
  • Temporarily halted construction of the US-Mexico Border Wall;
  • Ensured that all US-residents, including undocumented immigrants, are counted in the 2020 Census; and
  • Reinstated Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians.

President Biden also sent the US Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress. If passed by the Senate and House, this bill would represent the most sweeping immigration reform legislation in decades and lead to the largest legalization program in US history, larger than the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Biden’s administrative actions will reshape the US immigration system and federal agencies after four years of aggressive actions to restrict immigration.

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President Biden’s Executive Actions on Immigration

On his first day in office, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. issued a number of orders, proclamations, and directives that reversed harmful policies enacted by the Trump administration and sought to put the US immigration system on a far different course. These executive actions:

  • Ended the discriminatory travel bans;
  • Sought to revise US immigration enforcement priorities
  • Protected Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients;
  • Temporarily halted construction of the US-Mexico Border Wall;
  • Ensured that all US-residents, including undocumented immigrants, are counted in the 2020 Census; and
  • Reinstated Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for Liberians.

President Biden also sent the US Citizenship Act of 2021 to Congress. If passed by the Senate and House, this bill would represent the most sweeping immigration reform legislation in decades and lead to the largest legalization program in US history, larger than the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Biden’s administrative actions will reshape the US immigration system and federal agencies after four years of aggressive actions to restrict immigration.

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The Household Financial Losses Triggered by an Immigration Arrest, and How State and Local Government Can Most Effectively Protect Their Constituents

Through a survey of 125 long-term resident households in Pima County, Arizona, this study finds that an immigration arrest costs each household an average of more than $24,000. These costs accumulate through the value of assets seized and not recovered, out-of-pocket costs for hiring an attorney, immigration bond, and other expenses involved in supporting an immediate family member as they navigate the immigration court system. But they also include lost income due to disruptions to employment resulting from the arrest, and a physical inability to work while in detention, appearing in court, and immediately following deportation. In this article, we discuss how, when measured at the scale of the household, these financial costs fail to discriminate according to immigration or citizenship status, and accumulate to affect issues of poverty, education, housing security, health and development, and generational wealth inequality — all matters of sustained interest to state and local government. In the second half of the article, we draw on our research findings to evaluate various policies that states, counties, and municipalities can implement to mitigate these financial burdens while promoting the overall well-being of their constituents. Policies considered include:

  • The “Immigrant Welcoming City” paradigm
  • The limitation of routine cooperation and custody transfer between local and federal law enforcement
  • Expanding access to permissible forms of identification
  • Universal representation for immigration defendants
  • The cultivation of community bond funds
  • The promotion of worker-owned cooperatives

Although these kinds of state or local initiatives cannot replace meaningful federal action on immigration reform, they can do much to provide relief and promote economic security for established immigrant and mixed-status families living in the United States, while contributing to overall community well-being and economic vitality.

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Charting a Course to Rebuild and Strengthen the US Refugee Admissions Program

This report analyzes the US refugee resettlement program – known as “USRAP” (the US Refugee Admissions Program) – leveraging data from a national survey of resettlement stakeholders conducted in 2020. The survey examined USRAP from the time that refugees arrive in the United States. The survey’s design and questionnaire were informed by three community gatherings organized by Refugee Council USA in the fall and winter of 2019, extensive input from an expert advisory group, and a literature review.

This report finds that USRAP serves important purposes, enjoys extensive community support, and offers a variety of effective services. Overall, the survey finds a high degree of consensus on the US resettlement program’s strengths and objectives, and close alignment between its services and the needs of refugees at different stages of their settlement and integration. Because USRAP’s infrastructure and community-based resettlement networks have been decimated in recent years, the Biden administration’s main challenges will be to rebuild and revitalize the program, educate the public on it, and try to regain broad, bi-partisan support for it. The report also points to specific ways in which USRAP’s programs and services should be strengthened.

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Improving the U.S. Immigration System in the First Year of the Biden Administration

The Biden administration will face substantial challenges in putting immigration and refugee policy back on track—not just reversing ill-advised policies of the past four years but also improving a system that was in need of reform well before the current administration took office. In this paper, T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Donald Kerwin highlight a number of reforms that should be prioritized by the Biden administration in its first year.

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Strengthening the US Immigration System through Legal Orientation, Screening and Representation: Recommendations for a New Administration

This paper highlights the importance of legal orientation, screening, and representation to the US immigration system. It proposes that a new administration facilitate legal representation in order to establish a fairer and more efficient removal adjudication system and to place more immigrants on a path to permanent residence and citizenship. As is well-documented, legal assistance can:

  • Improve the ability of immigrants to identify and articulate their claims in removal proceedings and produce better-informed case outcomes.
  • Increase the efficiency and contribute to the integrity of the removal adjudication system.
  • Lead to better-prepared applications for immigration benefits, and thus a more just and efficient legal immigration system.
  • Place more non-citizens on a path to permanent residence and naturalization by identifying their potential eligibility for immigration benefits or relief, and, in some cases, their existing US citizenship.

Legal representation and expertise can also contribute to resolving some of the substantial problems that afflict the US immigration system, such as lengthy court and asylum backlogs. In addition, it can identify and help to correct legal and factual errors by immigration adjudicators, and abuses by enforcement officers and private contractors.

The paper’s first section describes federal legal orientation and assistance programs for non-citizens in removal proceedings. The second section discusses the need for large-scale legal screening and representation of US undocumented residents, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries. Its third section examines the proliferation of universal representation programs—supported by states, localities, and private funders—for non-citizens in removal proceedings before an immigration judge, and in summary removal processes administered by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The paper concludes with a series of administrative measures that a new administration could take in its first year to strengthen and expand legal representation. It also outlines longer-term policy recommendations that would require legislation.

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